Sav Charudattan, a Gainesville filmmaker, assisted Jeff Gray at each of Gray’s last three North Florida DUI checkpoint audits, and his company, IMV Films, created a behind-the-scenes checkpoint video.
He was also in the car when Gray drove through a checkpoint with his license, registeration and proof of insurance hanging out the window in a Ziploc baggie for a video that has now received more than 2.2 million views.
Now Charudattan is filing a federal suit against Sheriff Sadie Darnell and four other Alachua County Sheriff’s officers after being unlawfully detained and arrested for recording cars from a public right-of-way.
In 2011, Sergeant Paul Bernal detained Charudattan and two other members of his IMV crew for three hours after two other men crashed their car on the side of the road. The men who caused the accident were largely unquestioned during the detention, while Bernal demanded ID from the three filmmakers, even going as far as to seize Charudattan’s keys and tow his car.
“The deputies made several off-color, rude, and threatening comments,” said Charudattan. “My camera was seized when backup deputies arrived, and it was returned after my criminal trial ended 3 months later, damaged, with no tape or SD card. This seizure was very poor timing, and highly damaging to my film company.”
Both the charge and prosecution of Sav Charudattan were highly unusual. To start, Charudattan and the IMV crew were unlawfully arrested and taken to jail for being a “Spectator at a Drag Race,” which is a non-arrestable, non-criminal offense by Florida statute 316.191(4)(b). The charges were later changed to “Racing on the Highway,” despite the deputies having no evidence of anyone from IMV racing. The charges were likely changed to cover up the deputies’ colossal fuck-up in detaining, arresting, car-jacking, and jailing three people for a non-arrestable offense.
Accordingly, the members of the IMV team had the charges against them dropped – except for Charudattan, who for some reason was still taken to trial. After the prosecution failed to establish a case, Charudattan was granted a Motion for Judgement of Acquittal.
At trial, Sergeant Bernal admitted to having no reasonable suspicion or probable cause to detain Charudattan, and the state prosecutor, Kenneth Keith, admitted that the arrests and charges against Charudattan’s two crew members (identical to the arrest and charge and Charudattan) were improper and illegal.
Charudattan and his IMV mates Samuel Glazer and Justin Webster are seeking damages for wrongful arrest, unlawful search and seizure, and the violation of their rights to freedom of speech and expression. Read the lawsuit here. And view the news story below.